In a few hours’ time, England women will be flying to Sri Lanka for their next assignment, the very reason their last post-match media conference on this near-one-month-long tour of India, is somewhat rushed. That’s not to suggest, though, it would be bereft of insight or calm.
Presiding over the formalities is captain Heather Knight, herself the face of composure, with Kate Cross, the shero of their scintillating last-ball win in the third T20I against India, by her side.
There was a moment in June 2016 when, after bowling an expensive over in an ODI against Pakistan, Cross, the first female cricketer accepted into the Lancashire Academy and among the first 18 women to be awarded professional contracts by the ECB, had to put on her glasses to hide her tears. It wasn’t so much a show of mortification as it was of something she could barely express.
“I’m so out of my depth – I don’t know what I’m doing here,” she would recount of that moment, of her struggles with anxiety, in a poignant interview to the BBC, last August.
But the Cross who is preparing to field the first question in the Barsapara Stadium’s press room after scripting the heist, cuts an effervescent figure (akin to her Twitter persona that’s perennially engaged in retweet-worthy banter with team-mate Alex Hartley).
Cross is beaming and, much to the relief of anyone remotely aware of her journey, the sunglasses are perched atop her cap. Most pertinently, there’s no hint that Cross, now 27, had, during the peak of her battle with anxiety in the wake of that Pakistan ODI, nearly convinced herself that there was “nothing for me to carry on with”.
Three years on and after much support, she acknowledges, from England head coach Mark Robinson, management and her team-mates, those dark times seem so long ago, particularly in light of the last over she bowled in the third T20I.
Defending 119, and two off the last over, Knight picked Cross to bowl. In response, the medium-pacer delivered three dots, two wickets, a single – and victory.
“It’s been a long couple of years [for me],” Cross says after setting up one of England’s most memorable performances, in her third T20I since February 2015. “But it’s nice to be back on the field. Taking the match till last over was unbelievable. I am glad I pulled off the last over, managed to defend the low total.”
Cross put on the England shirt for the first time, in 2013, two years after being called up to the national squad for the 2011 tour of Australia. A match-winning 4 for 51 in that game would be followed by impressive returns in Tests, before that ODI against Pakistan kept her out of international cricket until July 2018.
In the past four months, though, Cross has emerged as an upgraded version of herself on the cricket field – as a bowling allrounder who can hit the long ball. The first glimpse of it came in her first innings with the Perth Scorchers, where she struck a 10-ball 20 at No. 5, including a six off Sydney Sixers’ Dane van Niekerk.
“The Big Bash was a big help for me because I got to play some tough cricket consistently, which is something that I have not been able to do in international cricket, Cross says. “I have been in the nets a little bit more. Obviously when you are not playing, you will have some time to practice and develop some skills.”
In this series, though, she had not had to use the bat, but her four wickets across the three T20Is helped England’s cause as did their match simulations back home and the presence of a psychologist on their support staff. In contrast, their rivals, India, to this day don’t have any such personnel to seek help from, despite having fluffed their lines time and again under pressure. Most telling of those instances came against England, in the 2017 World Cup final and the 2018 World T20 semi-final.
“We’ve come a long way as a side,” Knight says of closing out tight games and learning from their mistakes. “Speaking to Laura [Marsh] at the end of the game, she said we would have probably lost that three or four years ago. It’s just about knowing how you work as a player, and I guess me trying to work out what the best thing to say to a player is and try and keep them quite calm, and quite slow as well [because] in pressure situations, you tend to speed up things, you go through situations quickly.
“We actually did a few pressure tests in terms of batting with some crowd noise playing whilst we were training. It’s more individual, knowing how you react to certain situations.”
Cross wasn’t part of that drill, for she was playing in the WBBL. But on a day she silenced a stadium crowd of more than 10,000 people, she says replicating match scenarios in training had set her up for Saturday’s final-over glory.
“That’s the kind of thing we practise when we’re back home, in indoor school,” Cross says. “We practise scenarios when you’re defending a low total, you’re setting your fields. That’s the most pressure obviously we can create when not out there in the field. So it almost felt to me [today] like I’ve been in that situation before.”